To mark her 17th birthday, Malala Yousafzai, the young, precocious Pakistani girl who was shot and left for dead by the Taliban two years ago, visited Nigerian in solidarity with the over 200 girls abducted by members of the criminally- minded members of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in English means, “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”, and otherwise known as Boko Haram.
She met some of the girls who escaped from the group; and she also had audience with Nigeria’s Minister of State, Education, Nyesom Wike. But Wike, true to type, shot himself on the foot when he tried to explain the issue of out-of-school children. He said of the 10.5 children, nine million were from the North, to which Malala’s father pilloried him: “I don’t know about the system that is here, we only know that there are over 10.5 million children that are out of school. But it brings very bad name to the country”.
The issue is even if 10million of the out-of-school children are in the Delta Basin, they are still out-of-school children in Nigeria – the minister should have known that he was talking to people who are interested in best practices and not politics, the type he’s been playing in his home state of Rivers.
Below are excerpts of Malala’s modest intervention in a crisis that Nigeria’s leaders across the political divide have mishandled.
I thank the Nigerian people for the warm welcome. You are an incredible strong nation; you work every day to fight against your challenges through your unity, resilience and determination. Dear brothers and sisters, last Malala day, I told my story.
Last Malala day, I spoke about my life in Pakistan. I spoke about the rise of terrorism and the ban of girl education there in my home town. I spoke about the Taliban that took on my life and attempt to silence me forever.
I will repeat what I said last year. Nothing changes in my life except days. Weakness, fears and hopelessness die. Strength, power and courage were born. When I was shot by the Taliban, the world stood up. I, Malala, was the cry I heard around the world. I received thousands of good wishes cards and letters from people. I believe that God saved my life because of people’s prayers.
Today, this Malala Day, I’m not here to tell my story because I am not the only child who has been target of extremism. There are thousands who are suffering from terrorism, from violence and do not have access to education. I speak for those children whose right to quality education has been snatched from them.
SOLIDARITY WITH MY NIGERIAN SISTERS
I speak for the 66 million girls who are out of school. This Malala Day is the day for education of every child and it is dedicated to my dear Nigerian sisters who are going through the same rigorous situation. I dedicate this day to my sisters in Nigeria.
I will begin with the story I am here to tell you about the girl whom I met yesterday. I am really sorry I cannot mention her name, but I will call her my sister. My sister comes from the Nigerian village of Chibok. She is 16 years old. One day, my sister was in school; some armed terrorists called Boko Haram came and tried to steal her dreams. They kidnapped her. But, she was one of the luckiest ones who escaped from the abduction.
Before that, her father got killed; and her mother and sister got injured in the unstable situation in the North of Nigeria. Since she escaped, because of insecurity, she can no more go to school and her fairest subject is biology; she wants to become a doctor.
100 DAYS OF CAPTIVITY
Every day, Boko Haram razes nearby villages to terrorize the people. Over 200 girls were kidnapped and since have not returned. Next week, it will be 100 days; 100 days since they were taken. 100 days in captivity; 100 days out of school; 100 days without parents and 100 days under fear. My sisters and brothers, not only in Nigeria, but the situation all around the world, especially in the Middle East countries, African countries and Pakistan is getting worse every day. And when children do not have access to education, their studies are badly affected.
TERRORISM AND REFUGEE SITUATION IT BREEDS
Around 157 million children are out of school. 10.5 million children in Nigeria do not have access to education. Around 400 girls in total have been abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Seven million children in Pakistan are deprived of education. Around 900,000 people are homeless in Pakistan. In Pakistan, they have to leave their homes for safety when military operations are going on against the terrorists. Because of that, many children now do not have access to education and they are out of school.
Girls from Syria who were once in school and learning are now living in camps and are made to understand a new life as refugees while the world is silent doing nothing. And, the children in Syria are becoming a generation lost! Because of conflict between Gaza and Israel, people are badly affected. And, children on both sides are suffering. Recently, many children died because of Israel’s strike on Palestine, unfortunately.
Dear sisters and brothers, issues are countless. I am here to tell you my birthday wish on this prestigious occasion and to ask responsible people to listen to the voices of the Nigerian girls and their parents for whom I am here today. This birthday is not the kind of celebration where I will be having any enjoyment, eating cake and those things. This birthday, I want to celebrate it, standing up with my Nigerian sisters and their parents who are right here behind me.
Malala Day is a day where we all stand together for those who are voiceless and must be heard.
But, for things to change, it must be of affection towards our organization, the Malala Fund; with this, about $200,000 that will be given to two Nigerian organizations: Girl-Child Concern and Centre for Girl-Child Education. The heads of the two organizations are here today. I am really thankful to them for the work they are doing and becoming partners with us which has helped to empower and educate Nigerian girls.
I know that my small contribution is not enough; we still need a lot to do. But, this is just a start. But, under a just God, this is what I could do in such a short time.
CHALLENGE TO PRESIDENT JONATHAN
The question here is: What did the elders do? What will responsible people do? What will the leaders do to bring back our sisters? One thing that is important today is that I was able to meet with President, Mr Goodluck Jonathan. I met and told him that I hear the voice of my sisters. I am representing my sisters and their parents to you today.
‘And, as you are the elected President, you need to fulfill your responsibility. And, your responsibility is listening to your people that are saying “bring back our girls.’ “Luckily, the President did make two promises. He made two promises to me and to you, the people of his country. He promised the government will do its best to bring back the girls alive and safe. The second promise he made that is important is that he will meet the parents of those girls that were abducted. I am hopeful that Mr President will meet you soon because he promised to me, to you and to all Nigerian people.
MESSAGE TO BOKO HARAM
Today, not only am I asking the President and government of Nigeria to take action, but I am also asking Boko Haram to stop misusing the name of Islam. Islam is a religion of peace. Islam allows every boy and every girl to get education by going to school. And, education is compulsory in Islam. The word ‘Islam’ means peace. Islam gives a message of prudence, patience, harmony and humanity. I want to tell Boko Haram, think about your own sisters; just think for a while; think about your own sisters. If they suffer the same way, the same brutal and harsh situation, how would you feel?
To Boko Haram, I ask, if your own sisters are homeless, if they are around the captivity of some people who are so wild and cruel, how would you feel? Those who are under your imprisonment are like your sisters. Islam gives a message of brotherhood. We are all sisters and brothers. You are misusing the name of Islam but you hang your Quran there. Release my sisters and release the daughters of this nation. Let them be free; they have committed no crime.
WHY NIGERIANS MUST UNITE
To Nigerian people, I will like to say that Nigeria is a rich country not because it has oil resources but because it has people that have bravery and courage. It has people with the heart of humanity. This is the wealth of people; this is the wealth of this country. This is my word to this nation. So, make your country stronger for unity and togetherness. Make it stronger. Do not judge each other on the basis of your religion, class, colour, creed.
These are just words of identity. We should treat each other as human beings. All human beings should treat each other as human beings. We should not discriminate against each other on the basis of religion and the language that we speak.
I call upon the world community to protect girls across the world; to protect girls from inhuman hate and violence.
ON OUT-OF-SCHOOL CHILDREN
10.5 million children are out of school, specifically I want to highlight the issues of the the girls who were abducted and the girls who escaped, they are out of school now, there is no security for them and they are feeling insecure and so what should the education ministry do for them?
I am hoping that the three tiers of government would sit together and become united and they would consider the crisis in education as a national issue, especially on children that are out of school. They shouldn’t blame it on each other; they should sit down together because this is the future of this country and if they want the future of this country to be bright and shining, then they should increase the efforts they are making on education and they should increase the budgetary allocation to education, as much as it can be increased.
Hopefully, by the time I come back to this country I hope there would be zero number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. No child should be deprived of getting education and I am hopeful that the girls that escaped from the abduction are able to go to school and they get full protection. I have a lot of expectations from the government.
I know it is difficult for government to do things quickly but, hopefully, I believe by the time I come back, education would have improved in Nigeria. And, hopefully, I want to see those girls in school as well as the 200 girls rescued.
When we talk about Nigeria’s education crisis, the Federal Government must intervene and they should take the crisis as a national crisis; they should reach out to the state and local governments. Make Nigeria a good country where children go to school, I don’t know about the system that is here, we only know that there are over 10.5 million children that are out of school.
But it brings very bad name to the country especially the abduction of the girls in Borno State. You, personally, should ensure that girls go to school and they feel secured when they go to school.